Most employers may have zero tolerance when it comes to drugs in the workplace, but if we’re to believe the latest data from Quest Diagnostics in Madison, N.J., fewer job candidates and workers are taking such policies to heart these days.
For the first time in more than a decade, the percentage of positive drug tests among American workers in Quest Diagnostics’ Drug Testing Index increased, climbing to 3.7 percent in 2013 from 3.5 percent in 2012 (based on 7.6 million urine drug tests), according to Quest. The increase was fueled primarily by a rise in positive tests for marijuana and amphetamines.
As you might expect, the two states that have passed recreational-use marijuana laws—Colorado and Washington—experienced the greatest jump in marijuana-positivity rates, climbing 20 percent and 23 percent between 2012 and 2013, respectively. For the general workforce in all 50 states, the increase averaged 5 percent.
But it should also be noted that those two states experienced dramatic increases in marijuana-positivity rates prior to legalization at the end of 2012. From 2009 to 2010, Colorado experienced a 22-percent increase and Washington a 10-percent decline in positivity. From 2011 to 2012, Colorado experienced a 3-percent increase and Washington an 8-percent increase in positivity.
Barry Sample, director of science and technology for Quest Diagnostics Employer Solutions, says he’s not sure why the steep increases and declines in those two states preceded the legalization of marijuana. “It is possible that relaxed societal views of marijuana use in those two states, relative to others, may, in part, be responsible for the recent increase in positivity rates,” he says. “Yet this doesn’t explain why both states also experienced steep rises—and declines—in positivity in recent years.”
In light of these findings, Quest says it will be paying close attention to how the data evolves over the next year or two.
But what “we do know,” he adds, “is that workforce positivity for marijuana is definitely on the rise across the United States.”
In addition to these findings, Quest reports that use of amphetamines showed an increase across all three specimen types and oxycodone positivity declined 8.3 percent between 2013 and 2012 and 12.7 percent between 2012 and 2011 in the combined U.S. workforce. (In fact, four states actually experienced double-digit declines in oxycodone-positivity rates in both 2013 and 2012: Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Ohio.)
Of course, the rise in positivity rates could be aberration. After all, it’s just one year — and hardly the kind of move employers need to get worked up about. But that said, it’s still something they’re probably going to want to keep a close eye on, especially if more states decide to follow in the footsteps of Colorado and Washington and pass laws legalizing the recreational use of marijuana.